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Shane Elliott

Antrim hurlers can learn from ‘reality check’ – Shane Elliott

GENERALLY the theme of this column is dictated by whatever is a topic for debate in the game of hurling. Thankfully at this time of year finding a topic is made easier by the fact that there is on the field action to focus on.

Consequently this week’s theme seemed a bit of a no-brainer as Antrim were playing Dublin in the Leinster championship. However, I wish I had a Plan B as the last thing I want to do is dwell on what happened. It can only be described as a bad day at the office and one which Darren Gleeson and the boys will be keen to move on from as soon as possible.

What makes it all the more difficult to talk about is that nobody saw it coming, and I am sure Gleeson has been scratching his head at what actually happened.

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Personally I am not convinced it warrants a significant post mortem as it would be impossible to pin-point where it went wrong and over analysing it would be counterproductive.

The bottom line is, whatever way you look at it, Dublin were just a better team. Physically stronger, faster, executed the skills better and importantly made better decisions on the ball. That is in no way aimed as criticism of Antrim. I have been part of Antrim teams that suffered similar defeats so I do have some understanding as to how they might be feeling – and believe me the last thing they need is a mauling by the critics.

The reality is they have little choice but to dust themselves down, regroup and go again. They don’t have the time to feel sorry for themselves as they are back at it against Laois the weekend after this one. That is a huge game as the losers will be relegated to the Joe McDonagh, and that would take some of the shine off the positivity of the year to date on the back of an impressive league campaign.

The big learning for me, if we didn’t already know, is that the difference between league and championship is massive. The top teams have a tremendous ability to take it up a gear come championship as they can pace themselves through the league with a view to peaking in the summer.

The challenge for Antrim is they don’t have the strength in depth to afford themselves the luxury of sailing through the league as they need to peak earlier just to compete and retain their league status. Consequently they find the step up in pace that bit more difficult when championship comes around.

Just look at Clare who Antrim defeated in their first league game. Who would have thought then that they would be in a position to so impressively dispose of Waterford in the Munster championship at the weekend

Dublin were also able to step it up and I have to say, as disappointing as Antrim were, Dublin were extremely impressive and I can’t wait to see how they perform against Galway this weekend. Galway are a serious outfit and are a team, given their size and mobility, who are well placed to challenge the recent dominance of Limerick.

Talking of size and mobility that is where Dublin excelled over Antrim. Their ability to win primary possession and attack from all over the field gave Antrim serious problems. They had an athleticism about them that suggests they could be a match for anybody. Their game with Galway will prove if that is the case or not.

Plenty of food for thought for Antrim and I have little doubt Darren Gleeson is already planning for Laois. Clearing the heads will be key but I have every confidence there is enough resilience in this group to bounce back with a positive performance.

The weekend wasn’t great for the other Ulster teams involved in championship action. Down, by all accounts, battled extremely well against a fancied Kerry in the Joe McDonagh but ultimately lost by six.

Ronan Sheehan is doing a great job with Down and whilst he will be disappointed with the loss he will take some solace from the fact they are more than fit to play at that level having come up from Christy Ring last year. They have shown progress this year and will be quietly confident of getting points on the board as they entertain Meath at home this weekend.

A win is likely to ensure another year at McDonagh level and remove the threat of a return to the Christy Ring through a relegation battle with the bottom side in the other group. Staying where they are would constitute a decent year and reason for optimism in 2022.

Mickey McCann in Donegal is another man doing a great job. He will be extremely disappointed not to have got over the line against a fancied Mayo in the Nicky Rackard when they were pipped at the post having led going into the final stages. Their performances this year have shown continued progress with retention of their league status but championship success and elevation to the Christy Ring would have been the ultimate aim.

With the championship now in full flow there is much to look forward to in the next month. For Antrim in particular looking forward must be the focus. A bad day shouldn’t define their year and thankfully the championship format offers them an opportunity to end it more positively.

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